Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"How many prosecute their studies," or, why it's hard to get a paper on, say, Latin American governments written.

Extracts from Samuel Johnson's "The Idler," SATURDAY, JULY 28, 1759.

... I have sent you a journal of three days' employment, found among the papers of a late intimate acquaintance; who, as will plainly appear, was a man of vast designs, and of vast performances, though he sometimes designed one thing, and performed another.

Monday. Designed to rise at six, but, by my servant's laziness, my fire was not lighted before eight, when I dropped into a slumber that lasted till nine; at which time I arose, and, after breakfast, at ten, sat down to study, purposing to begin upon my Essay; but, finding occasion to consult a passage in Plato, was absorbed in the perusal of the Republick till twelve.

I had neglected to forbid company, and now enters Tom Careless, who, after half an hour's chat, insisted upon my going with him to enjoy an absurd character, that he had appointed, by an advertisement, to meet him at a particular coffee-house.

... We then adjourned to a tavern, and from thence to one of the publick gardens, where I was regaled with a most amusing variety of men possessing great talents, so discoloured by affectation, that they only made them eminently ridiculous; shallow things, who, by continual dissipation, had annihilated the few ideas nature had given them, and yet were celebrated for wonderful pretty gentlemen; young ladies extolled for their wit, because they were handsome; illiterate empty women as well as men, in high life, admired for their knowledge, from their being resolutely positive; and women of real understanding so far from pleasing the polite million, that they frightened them away, and were left solitary.

When we quitted this entertaining scene, Tom pressed me, irresistibly, to sup with him. I reached home at twelve, and then reflected, that, though indeed I had, by remarking various characters, improved my insight into human nature, yet still I had neglected the studies proposed, and accordingly took up my Treatise on Logick, to give it the intended revisal, but found my spirits too much agitated...

Tuesday. At breakfast, seeing my Ode to Astronomy lying on my desk, I was struck with a train of ideas, that I thought might contribute to its improvement.

I immediately rang my bell to forbid all visitants, when my servant opened the door, with, "Sir, Mr. Jeffery Gape." My cup dropped out of one hand, and my poem out of the other...

... Under the oppression of this dull interruption, I sat looking wishfully at the clock; for which, to increase my satisfaction, I had chosen the inscription, "Art is long, and life is short" ...

... At half an hour after three he told me he would trespass on me for a dinner, and desired me to send to his house for a bundle of papers, about inclosing a common upon his estate, which he would read to me in the evening. I declared myself busy, and Mr. Gape went away.

Having dined, to compose my chagrin I took up Virgil, and several other classicks, but could not calm my mind, or proceed in my scheme.

At about five I laid my hand on a Bible that lay on my table, at first with coldness and insensibility; but was imperceptibly engaged in a close attention to its sublime morality, and felt my heart expanded by warm philanthropy, and exalted to dignity of sentiment.

... at eleven I supped, and recollected how little I had adhered to my plan, and almost questioned the possibility of pursuing any settled and uniform design; however, I was not so far persuaded of the truth of these suggestions, but that I resolved to try once more at my scheme.

As I observed the moon shining through my window, from a calm and bright sky spangled with innumerable stars, I indulged a pleasing meditation on the splendid scene, and finished my Ode to Astronomy.

Wednesday. Rose at seven, and employed three hours in perusal of the Scriptures with Grotius's Comment; and after breakfast fell into meditation concerning my projected Epick; and being in some doubt as to the particular lives of some heroes, whom I proposed to celebrate, I consulted Bayle and Moreri, and was engaged two hours in examining various lives and characters, but then resolved to go to my employment.

When I was seated at my desk, and began to feel the glowing succession of poetical ideas, my servant brought me a letter from a lawyer, requiring my instant attendance at Gray's Inn for half an hour. I went full of vexation, and was involved in business till eight at night; and then, being too much fatigued to study, supped, and went to bed...

Here my friend's Journal concludes, which, perhaps, is pretty much a picture of the manner in which many prosecute their studies.

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At 1:04 PM, Blogger Alma said...

This is a great find!

Presently am reading Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise" and have been wondering how Amory will manage to get through a presumably demanding school like Princeton, what with sleeping though all his classes in order to be rested enough to party all night. I'm very worried for him!

People like to say that degrees are not worth much anymore, due to the "lack of effort it takes to earn one nowadays." But is seems that maybe this has always been the case, even 250 years ago... yikes!


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